War against Child Labour Can Be Won within 15 Years,
ILO Representative Tells Third Committee
International Labour Organization Seeks Convention by 1999 to Suppress Extreme Forms of Child Labour, He Says
The war against child labour can be won in all countries within 15 years, a representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said this morning, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its consideration of the promotion and protection of children's rights.
The subject of child labour had become central in the discussion of issues relating to the liberalization of world trade, he told the Committee. Part of the ILO's strategy to address the problem aimed at the adoption of a new international convention to suppress all extreme forms of child labour. Such an instrument would cover all forms of slavery-like practices, including debt bondage and serfdom, the use of children for illegal activities, and the engagement of children in any work which jeopardized their health, safety or morals. The representative of Canada said that while not all forms of child labour were exploitative or abusive, those that deprived children of their right to realize their potential and which exposed them to hazardous and dangerous work contravened human rights. Canada supported the ILO to develop by 1999 a new convention to combat intolerable forms of child labour.
It was not enough to free a child from work, the representative of Pakistan told the Committee. They must be offered hope for the future, and their families must be provided with the means for their survival. Poverty and economic backwardness were the main causes of child labour, he said.
Children should be considered "zones of peace", to be kept free of the deplorable consequences of armed conflict, the representative of the Republic of Korea said. His country looked forward to early adoption of the optional protocol to its Convention on the Rights of the Child concerning children in situation of armed conflict. Statements were also made by the representatives of Viet Nam, Mongolia, Turkmenistan, Niger, Tunisia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Uruguay, Bahrain and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The Third Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its consideration of the rights of the child.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue its consideration of issues relating to promotion and protection of the rights of children. It had before it reports of the Secretary-General on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and on exploitation of child labour, as well as a note in which he transmits the report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. (For background on documents before the Committee, see Press Release GA/SHC/3428 of 30 October.)
PATRICK CARRIERE, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said the subject of child labour had become central in the consideration of issues relative to the liberalization of world trade. There were charges and countercharges of social dumping, on the one hand, and protectionism on the other. Globalization and liberalization of world trade must be accompanied by the observance of fundamental rights, including a prohibition of child labour. The war against child labour could be won in all countries within 15 years. Governments, employers, workers and civil society had changed their perception of the problem; child labour was no longer condoned in silence. Progress had been made in understanding the problem, and priorities for action had been set. Child labour was the single most important cause of child exploitation and child abuse, he said. Everyone agreed that it had to stop. The ILO's strategy involved political commitment backed by a time-bound programme, creation of a global compact for cooperation, and adoption of a new international convention to suppress all extreme forms of child labour. The ILO had prepared such a draft convention. Its scope included all forms of slavery-like practices, including debt bondage and serfdom, as well as the use of children for illegal activities and the engagement of children in any work which jeopardized their health, safety or morals.
PHAM THI THANH VAN (Viet Nam) said the increases in the number of children victimized by abuse, ranging from the sale of children and their sexual exploitation to exploitative child labour, was tragic. Such abuse was most prevalent in developing countries, where poverty was the major cause. The ongoing Oslo conference should forge a comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem, focusing on development cooperation as key.
Education which would ensure sustainable development for children, represented a prime solution for many of the difficulties facing them, she said. In the information age, and with rapid changes occurring in all fields of life, the contents of education must be improved accordingly. That required a combined and coordinated effort at both the national and international levels.
JARGALSAIKHANY ENKHSAIKHAN (Mongolia) said that like other countries undergoing radical structural changes, Mongolia was trying to grapple with fundamental challenges. The vulnerable segments of society, especially children, had to be protected against the hardships of transition, because with poverty came problems ranging from high mortality to general neglect and home violence.
A United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) survey undertaken to assist the Government's National Centre for Children indicated that child labour was becoming a reality in Mongolia, he said. The Government realized that it needed a State policy and legal framework to address the problem. The child's rights in labour relationships should be well defined and protected. The ongoing Oslo conference on child labour was a step towards that end.
ENVER RAHMANOV (Turkmenistan) said that children had a right to expect protection, and his Government was providing that throughout its transitional period. Turkmenistan's national actions were in line with the Ashgabat Declaration on the rights of the child, which affirmed a regional commitment to the protection of children through economically effective means. Particular concern was given to the girl child and children living in extreme conditions. A sound legislative basis was needed for such a policy, United Nations bodies were important in establishing programmes and carrying them out. He said he was inspired that the Convention on Rights of the Child had reached nearly universal acceptance. Nevertheless, landmines were still waiting to take the lives of children; they must be banned. Quoting an African proverb, he said the world was not left to us by our parents, but was lent to us for our children.
MEREMI ABBA KOUROU (Niger) said he welcomed the appointment of the Special Representative on the situation of children in armed conflict and assured him of Niger's support for his work. The international community should address the worst aspects of poverty that affected children, as well as dealing with all the needs of children worldwide. Resources should be channelled to the neediest and the most neglected. In view of the vulnerability of children, the international community must attack the causes of underdevelopment. Niger had made great efforts to improve the plight of children. School attendance had increased, and targets had been set to raise the enrolment of girls. The Government's objectives would be realized by raising the consciousness of the population and through establishment of a fund for education.
The low level of health coverage and a low ratio of doctors to population in Niger adversely affected the child mortality rate, he said. Nevertheless, there had been an attempt to increase the immunization rate for children under one year and the Government was committed to combating diseases, such as AIDS. Objectives in the area of health would be achieved by encouraging grassroots participation, making local communities responsible for
addressing health problems, and providing training to the best traditional health workers. Legislative action had also been taken to improve the well- being of children, but special courts for children had not yet been established because of the lack of adequate infrastructure. Infrastructure had been set up for small children, such as reception centres and health centres. All of Niger's national programmes were developed in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Niger's report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child would be considered at its next session.
NEZIHA BEN YEDDER (Tunisia) said the Convention on the Rights of the Child was an appropriate legal framework to measure the commitment of States to the rights of the child. In Tunisia, children had benefited from a basic health policy which promoted the health and mothers and children, as well as from social protection measures and various leisure programmes. An integrated policy for the balanced development of the family had also been developed. A national action plan for children was adopted in 1991 and included a children's day, as well as awards to bodies that had distinguished themselves nationally, regionally and internationally in the cause of children. Other legislative action had included the adoption of a child protection code to promote preventive action. The penal code and various other laws had been revised to ensure the protection of children, and legal measures had been taken to ban child labour. Attempts had also been made to reduce child mortality rates. The great importance given to children's individual development was expressed through an increase in the number of kindergartens and green spaces.
Grave abuses of children should be addressed urgently through coordinated action by the international community, she said. Welcoming the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, she said that priority should be given to education. The 1996 Stockholm conference on the sexual exploitation of children had made important recommendations, which should be acted on. Children must be protected against the horrors of war, as should all of mankind. Ninety per cent of the victims of war were women and children. The appointment of the Secretary-General's Special Representative to Study the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children was welcome. The existing international instruments to protect children in armed conflict were important. Tribute should be paid tribute to the Committee on the rights of the child which made important recommendations for States Parties.
MAOWIA OSMAN KHALID (Sudan) said that both Islam and the prevailing norms in the Sudan stipulated explicitly the necessity of securing the rights of the child, including the right to an education. His Government had adopted a national programme to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child and had passed the necessary legislation. A law had been adopted for the compulsory education of all children above the age of six years, kindergartens had been established in the workplace and in neighbourhoods, and children's cultural centres had been set up.
He said the situation of children in southern Sudan was of great concern to his Government which had condemned the exploitation of children by the rebel movement, including their forced recruitment, their use as human shields, and their torture and death. The situation of children in armed conflict should be emphasized by the international community. It was necessary to conclude the drafting of the optional protocol on the situation of children in areas of armed conflict. Sudan had participated in the recent conference on children in armed conflict organized by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the African Network, which had agreed on priorities for unified action to protect children, particularly displaced children, child soldiers and unaccompanied refugee children.
The war in the south of the country had also led to the phenomenon of street children in Sudan, he went on to say. In attempting to solve the problem, the Government had established "peace villages" and homes to take care of the children, educate them, and provide them with the necessary shelter. The Government had also signed the Khartoum agreement with all the warring factions except one in an effort to achieve peace. Refugee children should be unified with their families. When that was not possible, they should be cared for by the extended family and the local community.
GHIZAL YOUNOS (Afghanistan) said that in her country, children were living in a war situation in which poverty and destitution prevailed. Children had been drawn into the warfare. From an early age, they learned to bear arms -- often before they learned to read and write. Education had worsened during the years of war. In the regions controlled by the Taliban, girls had been deprived of their right to education and boys were also being deprived because female teachers had been withdrawn. The tragedy of a lack of education for the majority of children in the Taliban areas was a cause for concern.
Afghanistan was a country in which the sunlight of peace had not shone for 17 years, she said. Children were also subjected to the bombings and anti-personnel landmines. They were being deprived of the right to life. Malnutrition was rampant and they were also suffering psychologically. Life expectancy was no more than 15 years and many children had seen many friends die. Tribute must be paid to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and to a number of donor countries for their generosity to the children of Afghanistan. Her delegation would support the Third Committee's draft resolution on the rights of the child, particularly its provisions on children in situations of armed conflict. She expressed the hope that one day, children in Afghanistan would be happy and would not be exposed to fear and despair.
JOHN T. HOLMES (Canada) said that while not all forms of child labour were exploitative or abusive, those which deprived children of their right to realize their potential and which exposed them to hazardous and dangerous work contravened human rights. Canada supported the ILO's efforts to develop by
1999 a new convention to combat intolerable forms of child labour. His country was also a contributor to the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, and was a party to many national and international initiatives for protection of children.
Canada was intent to see adoption of both the protocol on sale of children and one on children affected by armed conflict, he said. The comprehensive treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines would be signed in Ottawa in December, marking the start of a broad effort to remove millions of mines from the ground and to provide assistance to victims and nations coping with the devastation they caused. The UNICEF was to be commended for its leadership role in promoting mine-awareness by educating the most vulnerable members of the population, the children.
FESSEHA ASGHEDOM TESSEMA (Ethiopia) said his country had suffered from ravages of internal conflict for three decades, which resulted in large numbers of unaccompanied, orphaned and abandoned children, many of whom were displaced or refugees. During the past few years, Ethiopia had made considerable efforts to repatriate the refugees and create conditions to enable them to lead normal and peaceful lives. Nevertheless, conflict severly impeded children's access to education and health.
The optional protocol on the rights of children in situations of conflict had to set firm and unequivocal international standards, he said. Equally important was the protocol on sale of children, because the future of any country depended on the upbringing of its children. No developing country could expect success -- economically, politically or socially -- if it did not give due attention to the welfare of its children. The first challenge facing the African continent was to do away with such ills as malnutrition and the scourge of conflicts that eroded unity and undermined fundamental rights.
HAMIDA KHUHRO (Pakistan) said that poverty and economic backwardness were the main causes of the perpetuation of child labour. Pakistan was concentrating on education for the empowerment of children and of the lower strata of society. It was also taking special measures for empowerment of the girl child, aware that women played the pivotal role in development.
Measures taken by Pakistan to protect children, included the imposition of stringent punishments for violations of their rights, he said. In addition, the country's laws on child labour were being brought into conformity with ILO conventions. Nevertheless, it was not enough to free a child from work; children must be offered hope for the future, and their families must be provided the means for their survival.
Towards that end and with the help of the ILO and UNICEF, Pakistan had undertaken a comprehensive programme for the rehabilitation of child labour, she said. There were 35 centres throughout the country serving such basic
needs as education and recreation, while providing financial benefits for the child's family, as part of measures to combat poverty and prevent the economic exploitation of children.
IMELDA SMOLCIC (Uruguay) said a draft resolution being prepared by the Latin American and Caribbean countries combined the issues of the protection of children in armed conflicts and the eradication of the sale of children. It also addressed the plight of children living or working on the streets, elimination of exploitation of child labour, refugee and internally displaced children, children with disabilities, the girl child, and the mechanisms of cooperation between States parties and the United Nations system.
It was a matter of particular concern to find a rapid and enduring solution to the suffering of children trapped in armed conflicts, she said. The Convention on landmines should ensure that future generations would not suffer from such atrocities. Also important were the concrete measures called for in the Stockholm Declaration against sexual exploitation of children, which concerned cooperation among States, regional bodies and the United Nations system on such matters as sexual tourism and the legal responsibility of States.
YOUNG SAM MA (Republic of Korea) said although an unprecedented 191 countries had ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, millions of children were still victimized by armed conflict, sexual violence, famine and disease. Children were unable to comprehend the root causes of their suffering or to speak out against them. Adults must recognize that much of children's suffering was generated by them and that they therefore bore the ultimate responsibility to redress it. Concerted and sustained action by the international community should focus on protecting their safety and well-being, including those who were subjected to armed conflicts. Children should be considered "zones of peace", to be kept free of the deplorable consequences of armed conflict. To that end, he looked forward to early adoption of the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child concerning children in situations of armed conflict. The appointment of the Secretary-General's Special Representative on that issue was welcome.
Political will at the national and international levels was essential to end the sexual exploitation of minors, he said. The Republic of Korea supported the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography regarding the role of education and the media.
The magnitude of the problem of the child labour issue was underscored by the vast numbers of children being deprived of their right to education as a result of it, he said. Children also faced death as a result of dangerous working conditions. The Republic of Korea supported the ILO's efforts to initiate discussion on a new instrument concerning hazardous child labour and
the elimination of intolerable forms of child labour. The primary cause of child labour was poverty. Education, an essential preventive measure to counter the economic exploitation of children, should be a high priority for all governments.
The rights of the girl child called for urgent, effective and coordinated action among Governments, non-governmental organizations and the media, he went on to say. "Children are our future. Today we have a moral obligation to speak with a resonant voice on their behalf to ensure their rightful place as successors to the coming millennium, one filled with the promise of global peace and prosperity."
MOHAMMED SALEH (Bahrain) said that the tragic situation facing children in many parts of the world today should not be continued into the twenty-first century. Statistics showed that 15 per cent of children worldwide lived in poverty. Many children lived in exploitative situations, and many more were exposed to natural disasters, violence and armed conflicts. Thousands of children had been killed in wars over the past decade, and for every child killed, three others had been wounded, handicapped or suffered psychological trauma.
Violations and practices against children and other savage and inhumane practices must be condemned, he said. The Government of Bahrain had acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and had achieved great progress in the protection of children. There had been a reduction in the child mortality rate and a number of institutions had been established to protect children. The efforts of the United Nations system in protecting and promoting the rights of children must be commended. Nevertheless, the international community must work harder to consolidate the concept of the right of the child to a better life.
DONKA GLIGOROVA (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) said her Government attached great importance to the rights of the child. Much remained to be done by all States, regardless of their level of economic development, to promote children's rights. Her country's adjustment to a market economy had a negative impact on all citizens, but more so on children. Priority was being given to children, but there was a need for continued assistance by the international community. The focus of the debate on children's rights should be on solving problems that impacted on their future while creating a suitable environment to enable them to become useful citizens. The rights of children should be actively respected, not just acknowledged. Her country supported the optional protocols on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and on children in situations of armed conflict.